Sighing, I rub my eyes and glance at my laptop's clock. 2:38 A.M. When I'm in the midst of relocating someone, sleep is never assured. My client expects the job to be carried out swiftly, and I expect the job to be done well, and Valencia needs to be relocated before she decides to squeal to a friend or relative. I told her to start talking about her vacation to Italy. My plan involved her spending two weeks there, then telling her loved ones she had met and married an Italian man. Valencia objected. Anyone who knew her would know that she wouldn't marry anyone in two weeks, she'd said. She'd known her late husband Dale for five years before they'd married, she'd said. But although her objections were valid, I had to come up with a new plan, which involved Googling reasons to quickly move to a foreign country. She's too young to retire, she doesn't mind the despicable Chicago weather, and while she is Italian she knows of no relatives in Italy. So I sigh, shut my laptop, and leave the issue for another day.
What about a school, I wonder. Would she leave the country to pursue a career dream? Does she have one? I pick up my phone to call her, but I realize that it is 2:42 in the morning, when most sane people are asleep.
I leave my phone on the table and lie on the couch. I always sleep on the couch when I am working on a project like this; it keeps me from oversleeping. I despise the fact that, no matter how late I stay up, I wake up when the first light of dawn shines through my window. And yet I use it to my advantage on occasion.
A light floods my apartment--my phone is vibrating.
I stand and look at my phone. It's a 917 number. I hang up, but the number calls again. So I answer it.
"Austin Mortuary, you stab 'em, we slab 'em," I answer, more out of exhaustion than any real sense of humor.
"Stop messing with me, de Angelis," a cold voice snaps. "When are you getting rid of the girl?"
"Skylar Keeson," I say. "You do realize that it is the middle of the night?"
"Time difference. We need--"
"The time difference makes it 1:44 A.M. where you are. Unless you'd like to be added to my list of targets, hang up and do not call me again. How did you even get my number?"
"I've got friends, too," Keeson says. "Friends in high places--or should I say low places. Friends that are watching you. Friends that are making sure you get the job done right."
"Then ask one of your friends to kill Valencia Marianne Beltramo."
"My friends are good friends, but they're also stupid." I wonder what Keeson could be doing--pacing his bedroom in his pajamas, perhaps, or in his underwear depending on what he wears to bed. "They'll get evidence all over the place. You, de Angelis, are a legend. You work fast. You work clean. And I want you working overtime. Get the job done by November 15, or I will find one of my friends to do it for you."
"My deplorable friend, I suggest you don some pants, make your way to the nearest psychiatry office, and make yourself an appointment, or else ask one of your underlings to get you some Prozac off the streets. A normal person needs the help of drugs or a mental illness to speak to an assassin the way you just did."
"How'd you know I'm not wearing pants?"
"It is 2:49 A.M., rather 1:49 where you live, no one's wearing pants at this hour. Besides myself, rather." I do not see how anyone can have a difficult time relaxing in jeans; I regularly sleep in them. The only bad thing about them is how cold they are when you first slip into them on a frigid winter's morning. "Don't worry about Valencia. That's my job. Keep silent or I'll send you to the afterlife personally."
I hang up the phone, then immediately dial Valencia's number and leave a message: "This is Max. I'm afraid we'll have to move quickly, Valencia. Keeson contacted me. He has friends. Dangerous friends. It's very important that you do exactly as I say, or we could both face morbid danger."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.